How to Build an Effective Marketing Strategy: A Step-by-Step Guide

Feb 13, 2024

The importance of good marketing may seem obvious, but many brands fail to invest the time & effort necessary to build a solid marketing strategy. You’ve likely experienced this phenomenon yourself: when researching a brand you’re interested in, their messy marketing leaves you wondering, “what’s going on here? Are they even still in business?!”

An outdated website, a smattering of social posts every few months, a lack of cohesion and consistency. The look & feel of the brand is all over the place, and it’s unclear what they do or stand for. Are they technically doing marketing? Yes, of course… but it’s not strategic marketing. A marketing strategy requires more than just a sprinkle of different outreach techniques used inconsistently. A good strategy requires forethought, planning, and intentionality.

The great thing about having a strategic marketing plan is that it gives you the potential to yield pretty substantial results with a bit of focused effort. You don’t need a marketing degree to create a kick-ass strategy, and you don’t need to be on every single platform to see results. So, before you draft an email or design a Pinterest pin with no direction, follow these steps to build an effective marketing strategy.

Step 1: Iron Out Your Brand Strategy

Alright, mentally prepare yourself for a bit of soul-searching. Before we can jump into creating your marketing strategy, it’s essential to get introspective and define who your brand is, what it provides, and how it differs from your competition.

To nail down your brand strategy, ask yourself (and more importantly, write down):

  • What are we doing that nobody else in our industry is doing?
  • What do we stand for? What is our mission and core values?
  • In one sentence, what do we provide for our potential customers?
  • Who is our ideal client? (Remember to think about who they are as humans, not just their demographics!)
  • What needs do our clients/customers have, and how are we meeting those needs?
  • Who is our competition, and how are we different from them?
  • Who are our industry allies or brands that are complementary to ours? How can we collaborate with or support one another?

Ideally, your brand strategy outline should clearly define who you are, what role you fill in your industry, and how you differ from everyone else (AKA your unique value proposition), among other insights on positioning your brand in the market. Your brand strategy functions as a living manuscript, evolving alongside your brand, team, and mission. It not only provides guidance for presenting your brand, but also serves as your internal “north star”. Uncertain about your next move? Consult your brand strategy first!

Another essential part of your strategic framework is your brand identity. Your brand strategy talks about who you are, while your brand identity is all about how you’ll present your brand externally. Identity includes voice, tone, visual aesthetics (colors, fonts, creative direction), and assets like logos or photos/videos. Brand identity is vital because nothing sabotages a cohesive marketing plan quite like messy, inconsistent visuals.

Many brand owners tend to feel as though they’re “too close” to their brand to develop a clear brand strategy, or don’t have the skills to design their visual identity. Luckily, we can help with that!

Step 2: Perform Market Research

Now you have a framework for who you are, but who is your audience? That’s where market research comes in! However, keep in mind that market research is a massive topic and can get very complicated, very quickly. You could spend forever gathering information and get lost in the weeds without ever taking action, which is why it’s crucial to develop an intentional approach to market research. Not only that, but market research isn’t something you perform once and never have to do again. You’ll want to perform initial in-depth market research, then update your research at least every six months. Templatize your process as much as possible the first time around so you can easily follow it later!

It’s also crucial to perform market research when you’re in the early stages of developing a new product or service. After all, you don’t want to put a ton of time, energy, and budget into an offer, only for it to flop because you assumed you knew what your audience needed, instead of researching what they needed.

So how do you conduct market research?

Analyze Current & Potential Clients

Start with your current clients. Who are they, how did they find you, and why did they choose you? The people currently engaged with your brand are a great indicator of your target audience because you know that your offers have already resonated with them. You can even outright ask them through surveys, emails, or directly when speaking to them. Remember to be intentional about how, when, and how often you approach existing clients for market research purposes! Going overboard with emails and messages can put you into “sleazy salesperson” territory.

As you gain insight into the demographics & behaviors of your target audience, it’s ideal to perform research on which digital channels are frequented by individuals who match your ideal client profile. Two great examples of this are Pinterest and TikTok. Pinterest’s user base is 76% female, and TikTok’s user base is 60% Gen Z (ages 12-27 as of 2024). So if your brand caters to women, you’d likely want to have a presence on Pinterest, and if your brand caters to Gen Z-ers, you’d likely want to have a presence on TikTok. By understanding where your audience “hangs out” online, you can build a presence on those platforms to engage with them more effectively.

Perform Industry Research

Next, look at your industry. What’s happening in your niche, and what trends should you be aware of when attempting to connect with and build your audience? Sometimes, this is just as simple as grabbing a pen & paper and scrolling through social media and blogs, jotting down thoughts and insights as you come across them. If you want to take a more formal approach, sites like Google Trends, Statista, and AnswerThePublic are all great for gathering insights on trends within your industry and what your target audience is searching for.

Observe Your Competitors

Lastly, who is your competition, and what are they doing differently? When you’re performing competitor research, be mindful not to copy their strategies. Instead, the point is to gain insight into what is and isn’t working for them from an outsider’s perspective. Look at how they present their brand visually, how their messaging is structured, and how their audience interacts with their content, as well as any publicly available insights on the brand’s market performance. Knowing what your competition is up to can help you stay agile & reactive, but don’t let this deep-dive market research overwhelm you and prevent you from taking action. You’ll never be 100% sure, and you’ll always be learning, adapting, and optimizing as you go.

Step 3: Do a Thorough Marketing Strategy Audit

Odds are, you already have a marketing presence. This can be a website, a social media account (or five), a Google Ads account, or an email list. Your marketing presence is anything you have in place, both digitally and offline, that helps you connect with current and potential clients. 

And just because you’re working on building a more cohesive marketing strategy doesn’t mean you have to throw away everything you’ve been doing up until now. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: you can learn a lot by identifying what is and isn’t currently working for your brand. What have you done that has been successful? Which of your marketing efforts converted to sales, generated new leads or email sign-ups, or got your audience engaged? Make note of this so you can lean into those approaches in the future!

Follow these steps to perform a thorough internal audit:

  1. Compile your current marketing channels into a document or spreadsheet so you can start managing & monitoring them.

  2. Gather all of your analytics from your different channels. Analyze them for trends and denote the campaigns, posts, and emails that did exceptionally well. Write down any insights that stand out to you. Some insights you’ll want to look at include reach, engagement, website traffic by channel, open rates, click-thru rates, and demographic insights on the people who are viewing and engaging with your marketing content.

  3. Objectively examine your marketing channels to observe your brand as if you were a member of your target audience and ask yourself the following:

    • How is your brand presented? Is there a cohesive identity? Does your website clash with your socials, for example, or do they work together congruently?
    • Is it obvious what your brand does and who it serves based on your bios, your visuals, and the content you put out? What areas of ambiguity can be made more clear?
    • Are you creating and distributing high-quality content on a consistent basis?
    • Are you following current best practices for each channel?
    • Are you giving clear calls to action when distributing marketing materials?
    • Is your content aimed at solving your prospective clients’ problems?

  4. Ask a trusted associate or marketing professional to give you some perspective on your channels. Often, others can be more objective and see things with a critical eye.
  5. Repeat quarterly, and use the insights you gather from each audit to update & optimize your marketing strategy moving forward.

Part of a successful audit is turning off your emotions and viewing your successes & failures analytically. Entrepreneurs and brand owners frequently get into the “sunk-cost fallacy” mindset when attempting to optimize their marketing strategy, sticking with an outdated approach because they’ve already invested so much time and energy into it – even if that approach isn’t working. But remember, growth and progress require a certain level of discomfort and honesty.

Similar to developing your brand strategy, auditing your current marketing strategy from an “outside perspective” might seem virtually impossible when you’re so deeply immersed in your business. On the contrary, that’s kinda our jam here at Sonder Social, so hit our line and we’ll put our marketing minds to work to give you a fresh perspective on your brand.

Step 4: Define Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

Buckle up, because we’re about to dive into the nitty-gritty of measuring your marketing success. Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs, are the metrics you’ll use to track progress toward your marketing goals, and whether your marketing strategy is having a positive influence on achieving your overall business goals. Without KPIs, it can be pretty difficult to understand whether your strategy is working, and where optimization is needed.

When selecting KPIs, consider both quantitative and qualitative measures. While it’s easy to get bogged down in numbers, don’t underestimate the power of qualitative insight, especially when it comes to understanding how your audience perceives your brand.

Here are some examples of KPIs you might consider:

  1. Website Traffic: Measure the number of visitors from your marketing channels to your website over time. This KPI can help gauge the effectiveness your marketing efforts are having on driving traffic towards that “next step”.

  2. Conversion Rate: Track the percentage of website visitors who take a desired action, such as making a purchase, signing up for a newsletter, or filling out a contact form. A high conversion rate indicates that your website is effectively converting visitors into customers or leads.

  3. Social Media Engagement: Monitor likes, comments, shares, and other interactions on your social media posts, as well as your overall engagement rate. This KPI can help you understand how well your content resonates with your audience and how tuned-in they are to your brand.

  4. Email Open Rate: Measure the percentage of recipients who open your marketing emails. A high open rate indicates that your subject lines are compelling and that your audience is interested in your content.

  5. Email Click Rate: Measure the percentage of recipients who click on a link or call-to-action within your marketing emails. This KPI provides insights into the effectiveness of your email content and the relevance of your messaging to your audience, helping you gauge engagement and identify opportunities for optimization.

  6. Customer Lifetime Value (CLV): Calculate the total revenue generated by a customer over their entire relationship with your brand. This KPI can help you understand the long-term value of your customers and, as time goes on, inform your marketing strategies to create greater customer retention and loyalty.

  7. Return on Investment (ROI): Determine the ratio of your marketing investment to the revenue generated from your marketing activities. ROI is a critical KPI for evaluating the effectiveness and profitability of your marketing campaigns.

Remember, the key to effective KPIs is relevance and specificity. Choose KPIs that directly reflect your business objectives and marketing strategy, and regularly review and adjust them as needed based on your performance data.

Once you’ve defined your KPIs, establish benchmarks and set targets for each metric. These benchmarks will serve as reference points for evaluating your progress and identifying areas for improvement. Your initial set of benchmarks should be informed by the data you gathered during your marketing audit. Remember to monitor & analyze your KPIs each month to track your performance and make data-driven decisions to optimize your marketing efforts.

Step 5: Create a Set of Content Pillars

Now that you’ve taken a high-level look at your brand strategy and marketing channels, gathered insights, and made improvements, it’s (finally!) time to develop your content strategy. Following a structured content pillar framework can help you decide what you should distribute on your marketing channels and how it helps you achieve your overreaching brand goals, such as building brand awareness and engaging new potential clients. Without a framework, it’s easy to fall into the trap of posting whatever, whenever, which is not good for your brand (or your audience).

So, develop several pillars that align with your brand and the type of content you want to make. You should aim to put out more than just promotional content if you truly want to build a community through your marketing channels. A constant influx of sales-y content can start to make your audience feel like they’re being chased down by that annoying guy in the mall who desperately wants you to test out whatever random product he’s selling – ugh!

Instead, take a human-centered approach and think about what types of content your audience would like to see, based on the research you’ve gathered about them. Does it make sense to share tips and how-to’s, engage people with humor, give insider insights, or be deeply authentic as an industry leader? All of the above? There’s no “wrong” answer when creating the content framework, as long as it aligns with the insights and objectives you’ve laid out from the previous steps.

One approach to content pillars that we love and use with many of our clients is as follows:

  • Dedicate a pillar to emphasizing the emotional benefits your brand and its products/services provide to your audience
  • Dedicate a pillar to emphasizing the tangible benefits your brand and its products/services provide to your audience
  • Dedicate a pillar to your brand ethos – incorporating your why, your brand values, and your mission, in order to connect with your audience on a deeper level
  • Dedicate a pillar to delivering your brand’s take on recent trends, either in social media or within your industry

This approach can work for nearly every brand and helps you connect with both the emotion-driven and fact-driven buyers in your audience, establish authenticity and build trust, and keep your content fresh by incorporating what’s hot right now. However, remember to tailor your content pillars according to what makes the most sense for your brand!

Step 6: Build A Content Planning System

Now that you’ve ironed out all the details, the last thing to do is develop a content planning system where you can build your editorial calendar and create content each month. The content creation & scheduling system you build will largely depend on the marketing channels you plan to use, the types of content you’ll create, and the volume of social media content and email content that you plan to push out. Are you going all-in on organic content or will you allocate some of your budget towards paid ads? Will you have a regularly scheduled email newsletter? Is there a potential to gain earned media coverage by connecting with complementary brands, publications or industry figures?

No matter what route you take, it’s crucial that you know when your marketing content will go out and who’s responsible for it. This is often where most brands get stuck trying to create a comprehensive and consistent marketing strategy: you may know what you want to post, but that won’t matter much if you’re not taking the time to create and schedule your content in advance, which usually leads to major gaps in your posting frequency as a result.

We recommend planning and scheduling your marketing campaigns at least monthly, and fine-tuning your content plan bi-weekly to incorporate any current trends. If your team’s workspace is already contained within a project management tool (e.g. ClickUp, Notion or even Airtable), you can likely build out a content planning space within it. This way, you can easily align your content planning workflow to the rest of your internal processes and procedures.

Using software like Flick (we use Flick with all of our clients!) or Planable can help organize and automate social media scheduling. Many scheduling platforms also have built-in content calendar templates if you prefer to keep planning & scheduling in one place.

Flodesk and ActiveCampaign are two great options for managing your email marketing. Flodesk is more simple & user-friendly, while ActiveCampaign is more robust with tons of features.

However, the specific tools you use are less important than consistency and creating a system that works for you.

Need Some Support With Building Your Marketing Strategy?

Marketing itself sounds pretty straightforward in theory – just plan, create, post and optimize… right? But the reality is that it takes a lot of time, energy and effort to do it right – time that you and your team may not have with so much else on your plate.

That’s why many brands & entrepreneurs – including our clients! – opt to work with a digital marketing agency instead of attempting to tackle their marketing solo or incurring the (often massive) expense of hiring an in-house marketing team. Outsourcing to marketing experts with insider knowledge of industry approaches, best practices, and the hands-on experience to streamline the process will save you tons time & effort, setting you up for success without all the stress.

At Sonder Social, we take care of all the high-level content planning, development, and implementation, so you can focus on the bigger picture instead of spending hours (or days) on your marketing each week. Check out our agency & consulting services, then drop us a line and let’s chat about how we can help your brand scale to its next level!



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